A Look at Who's FOIAing the Bin Laden Death Photo

News agencies and advocacy groups are trying to overturn Obama's decision

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While the debate over President Obama's decision to withhold Osama bin Laden's postmortem photograph continues, a number of news agencies and advocacy groups are attempting to release the government's photo and video evidence via a Freedom of Information Act request. Here's a look at who those actors are:

The Associated Press

Last week Monday, the news wire filed for the photo and video evidence, to which the government has 20 days to respond. "We would like to obtain images from the raid because we believe they would have significant news value," said the AP's director of media relations Paul Colford. "However, we would decide about publishing all or some on the images based on our own editorial standards, which include such factors as tastefulness and whether they could cause harm or danger to others."


Today, Politico's Ken Vogel received a response to his FOIA request. The Department of Defense referred his request to the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command in Fort Meade, Maryland. He posted the letter here. According to some legal experts, if the Army has the bin Laden photo, the government may have to release it because, unlike the White House, it's subject to FOIA. Still, the Army or CIA may apply for an exemption citing a national security risk (though that could be a difficult case to make).

Fox News

Live on air, Fox News anchor Shep Smith wondered aloud if he could successfully file a FOIA request. After a moment of reflection he then ordered the company's lawyers to begin drafting one. No word yet if they received a reply. Update: Contrary to what happened on live TV, a Fox News spokesperson tells the Atlantic Wire "as of this time, we have not," filed a FOIA.

Judicial Watch

Judicial Watch, the conservative government transparency group, filed its FOIA with the Department of Defense last Wednesday. "President Obama's decision not to release the bin Laden photos is at odds with his promises to make his administration the most transparent in history," wrote the group. "Judicial Watch hopes its FOIA requests will provide a  mechanism to release these records in an orderly fashion in compliance with the FOIA law. President Obama's reluctance to spike the football is not a lawful reason for withholding these historic public documents from the American people."

Citizens United

The conservative advocacy group filed its FOIA on Thursday. "On behalf of Citizens United and its 500,000 members, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, Citizens United is requesting any and all photographs and or videotapes taken during the Abbottabad raid conducted on May 1, 2011 that document the death of Usama bin Laden," wrote the group. "We are also requesting any and all photographs and or videotapes created during the funeral and funeral preparations of Usama bin Laden carried out on or around the U.S.S. Carl Vinson."


Update: On Tuesday, NPR began drafting a FOIA request for the raid footage. "Pictures of Osama bin Laden and other images from that mission would have compelling news value and public interest," said Dick Meyer, executive editor for news at NPR. "I can foresee circumstances or arguments that would lead us to refrain from publishing the images if we were to get them, but NPR should be in a position to make that decision and not simply accept the government's action."

CBS News

Added on May 18


Added on May 18

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.